Dir: Joshua MichaelStern. US. 2005. 108mins.

Harry Potter flies over the Cuckoo's Nest in Neverwas, a mixed-up attempt to combine a psychologicalthriller with a children's fairytale under the flawed assumption that the twogenres are not that different from each other.

While the overall verdict onJoshua Michael Stern's debut feature is unlikely to bevery flattering, it cannot be denied that he has managed to assemble aformidable cast, including Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Nick Nolte, William Hurt and Jessica Lange.

But none is able to hitanything like their top form here and instead find themselveswasted in minor parts. Their names may draw initial interest for Neverwas once itventures onto the commercial circuit, but it will dwindle very quickly onceword-of-mouth spreads.

At the heart of the featurelies a book - or fairytale to be more accurate - called Neverwas which, we are told, has influencedan entire generation. Something akin to TheLord Of The Rings, it was written by TL Pierson, afamous author and tormented soul, who eventually committed suicide in Millwood,a psychiatric hospital.

Zach Riley (Eckhart), Pierson's son and the picture's protagonist, grewup hating the book which, he believes, took his father from him (he witnessed thesuicide itself).

Now a brilliantpsychiatrist, but still suffering acute spells of insomnia, he leaves apromising academic career to return to Millwood to find out what happened. Afterpretending to the hospital's director Dr Reed (Hurt) that his visit is to helpwith patient care, Zach begins digging around for evidence of his father's lifethat might explain his own troubled mind.

He also develops a closerelationship with Gabriel (McKellen), one of hischarges, who has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for more than 30years.

Gabriel claims he is theking of the mythical land of Neverwas, which heinsists is not myth but real, and that Zach has been sent to him by an ancientprophecy to deliver him from his "jailers" and help him retrieve his kingdom.

By now Zach is unable tosleep at night and constantly agitated when awake, haunted as he is nightmaresof his childhood, memories of his father's drunken bouts, echoes of hisparents' bitter arguments and images of his own body hanging from a tree (animage already introduced in the pre-credits sequence).

Finding it impossible todiscuss the past with his mother (Lange) and desperately clinging to his ownsanity, he leans on the affections of childhood friend Maggie (Murphy), anardent admirer of Pierson's book who is now researching his life for a New Yorkmagazine.

Pulling together psychiatricward drama, fairytale, childhood trauma, romance and myth is just too much forStern to handle in one fell swoop.

Instead Neverwas rushes all over theplace, using each of the afore-mentioned genres to try and bring colour to theothers while never bothering to develop any of themproperly nor generate enough interest.

The cast, when not indulgingin vast exaggerations of their roles (like Jessica Lange's sudden outburst whenpressed by her son to deal with painful memories), seem to be navigating onautomatic pilot.

Ian McKellen'srich repertoire of playing mad royalty provides everything he needs for animaginary monarch, while Nick Nolte's real-life over-indulgence on screen has becomealmost obligatory. Aaron Eckhart, who can easilyapply his talents to malicious, assertive characters, has to fall back onpretty standard mannerisms to sail through his part.

Cast members such as WilliamHurt and Michael Moriarty must have had more to do than the leftovers seen inthe final cut - but short of a director's cut we are unlikely to know.

The background shots ofVermont's breathtaking landscape make for pretty viewing and Philip Glass'score has the kind of insistent repetitiousness that fits in with the story's obsessivecharacter. What is eventually revealed of Neverwas -be it stories, drawings and maps - looks intriguing but there is not enough ofit.

Production companies
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Mandate Picture Productions
Kingsgate Films

International sales
Mandate Pictures

Executive producers
Nathan Cahane
Amanda Mackey-Johnson
Marina Grasic

Sydney Kimmel
Greg Shapiro

Joshua Michael Stern

Michael Grady

Steve Kemper

Production design
Sean Hargreaves

Philip Glass

Main cast
Aaron Eckhart
Ian McKellen
Brittany Murphy
Nick Nolte
William Hurt
Jessica Lange
Michael Moriarity
Alan Cumming